Neil Darwin and Intricate Negotiations

With the Woolworths building still standing empty after more than eighteen months, Neil Darwin from Opportunity Peterborough responds to news that the Queensgate Centre could build some extra floorspace.

08:20 Monday 25th October 2010
Peterborough Breakfast Show BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: Now, on top of schools, the other big story is that Queensgate have submitted plans to expand the shopping centre. Developers Hammerson want to add an extra ten thousand square metres to the centre. It’s thought the extension will be over Bourges Boulevard, near the Queensgate roundabout. Neil Darwin is from Opportunity Peterborough. Morning Neil.
NEIL DARWIN: Morning Paul.
PS: It sounds like good news. But there are already quite a few empty shops in Queensgate. Are we just going to be building more empty ones?
ND: No. That’s clearly not the plan. Queensgate itself is starting to see a number of units be filled again, which is extremely positive news. Listeners will know about Schuh and other shops that are coming back in. It’s part of what we know, we’ve always known, needs to happen in the centre.
PS: Yes. What’s wrong with Peterborough? Why don’t we attract the big shops, the TK-Maxxs the Primarks? Why don’t they want to come to Peterborough, the Debenhams? What’s wrong with us?
ND: What’s wrong with us? I don’t think there’s an awful lot wrong with us. But to answer you direct on some of those names you’ve listed, watch this space.
PS: Woolies, yeah, obviously. We’re aware of the possible …
ND: Well let’s wait and see. I think the key thing is simply the city hasn’t marketed itself effectively enough outside of the city for some time. Now, as people are beginning to hear about us and see us positively ..
PS: Who’s failed to market us then Neil?
ND: To be completely truthful, I think Opportunity Peterborough failed to do that for some time. We’ve started to address that. But collectively I think we have a habit of talking the city down, rather than up. I think all of a sudden we’re starting to make inroads into that. And with great support from the business community we’ve got an awful lot of advocates that now talk us up.
PS: Yes. So this is going to be filled, then, with the right shops, the ones that people want? Because these shops are increasingly popular, your TK-Maxxs, your Primarks, your Debenhams. And it takes people out of town, doesn’t it?
ND: Yes. Absolutely. Will it be filled with ones that people want? Absolutely. Obviously I can’t comment on who’ll be going in there at this stage, it’s far too early.
PS: No but the sort of shops we’re looking for here.
ND: Absolutely. I think people will see the right kind of uses they’re looking for. What there won’t be, you don’t put up a hundred thousand square feet and put pound shops in there, for example. We would be looking at, certainly from Opportunity Peterborough’s perspective, we would be encouraging the right range of mix. One thing we do know is the kind of shops that people are looking for, and you just named a few then Paul, slightly earlier. They are the kinds we would be looking to attract, to work hard on, to ensure they come to the city.
PS: Yes. What sort of extension is this? Are we right? It’ll go over the back of Marks and Spencer’s and the Queensgate roundabout, the sort of service entrance?
ND: That’s as much as I understand at this time. Absolutely. Very early stages of development, but very positive nonetheless.
PS: Yes and good news for the city that hopefully, if we fill it with shops, it will bring more people in as well.
ND: It’s got to be good news for us Paul. We were waiting for ages to get something moving. This is the first part of it. And again I firmly believe that once you get one good sized project off the ground, others will start to flow. It’s about breeding confidence. And this is a great step forward for us, as soon as it gets started.
PS: We’ve alluded to the fact that perhaps one of these big stores I mentioned, TK-Maxx, Primark, Debenhams, one of them may be coming to Peterborough fairly soon. Any timescale on when we can expect to see the Woolies building full, with somebody in?
ND: No I can’t comment on that at this stage Paul. We’ve got some very intricate negotiations, extremely intricate negotiations going on, which have gone on longer than we had suspected.
PS: Because we were hoping to have somebody in there by Christmas, weren’t we, last year?
ND: One user was. We’re not talking to that user currently. But we would expect one or both of the companies you named to appear somewhere in the city in the not too distant future.
PS: So in the not too distant future we can expect TK-Maxx AND Primark?
ND: You mentioned the names Paul, not me.
PS: OK. Well that’s good news. That’s really good news. And what are you doing differently now? Because you openly admitted that Opportunity Peterborough has not been doing its job properly over the years. What are you doing differently now Neil to sell the city?
ND: We’re trying to do fewer things better, is simply the message. I think OP got bogged down in an awful lot of stuff they couldn’t deliver upon, to be honest. The market conditions obviously didn’t help. But I think quite simply they were trying to do things that there wasn’t enough capacity to deal with. And therefore they became unstuck pretty comprehensively, to be honest.
PS: Well let’s hope this is really good news for Peterborough. Woolies full, these big names coming to the city, even more shops in Queensgate, it can only be good news, can’t it. And if you’re doing less things even better, hopefully the future looks bright.
ND: We’ll make sure you’re invited to the openings Paul.
PS: (LAUGHS) Thank you. In a pair of jogging bottoms. Neil Darwin from Opportunity Peterborough, who .. er .. very candid that Opportunity Peterborough’s not done the job very well over the years, not attracted businesses to Peterborough, and not done what it should have done. But they’re doing it now.